Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Capital Capture: Give Me Info and I Am Yours

As I approach the 7th anniversary of moving to Ottawa, I keep on marveling at my good fortune.  There never was a grand plan to move to Ottawa--it just happened.  Indeed, when I applied for the job at Carleton, I had no expectation of getting it.  Indeed, I didn't get that job (the Barton Chair)--I got the Paterson Chair instead, and it has been a great experience even before my ultimate frisbee team beat a NPSIA-based team last night in the Ottawa ultimate league.

Yesterday was not typical but not atypical.  I went to a briefing organized by the Conference on Defence Associations Institute (a CDSN partner) given by a Canadian officer who had commanded in the Mideast as part of OpImpact.  I learned a great deal including:
  • The effort is now a regional one as they have folded the Iraq mission in together with training missions in Lebanon and Jordan.
  • The Jordan training includes helping to create Female Engagement Teams--so that the Jordanian military can interact with women better.  Lots of change is going to happens since the speaker indicated that some of the officers of the Jordanian military don't know what to do with the trained women--their new skills are not for secretary jobs but for crowd control, patrolling, etc.
  • One Canadian training effort in Lebanon is winter training.  Turns out that a key hunk of the Lebanese border with Syria has long gone unpatrolled because the Lebanese armed forces have had little training in this area.  And yes, there are mountains and snow and skiing in Lebanon.
  • The CAF is definitely learning how to do the training and what to expect: "We can't want it more than they do."  Also, this officer was honest about the limitations--we can't say that folks we trained didn't go on to do war crimes.  This is more believable than the previous assurances that this could not happen.  I'd love to see a study that assesses whether western-trained soldiers commit fewer war crimes and whether this varies by the identity of the trainers.  But the methodological problems might just be insurmountable.
  • Not much media coverage and much of this is the fault of Canada--that for sometime, the policy was not to show the pictures of faces or give the names of those doing the training.  Fear of security risks were scoffed by those in the room.  A rep of a coalition partner said they had the same policy.  
  • That the electromagnetic spectrum is dominated by our opponents.  That is, we do not control the airwaves, and we have to assume that our unclassified networks are penetrated.  Not great.
  • Because of how personalist things are (including corruption that provides the grease that allows the military machinery to move in places like Iraq), the performance of any unit depends more on the battalion commander than pretty much anything else.  So, of course, this leads to a key question/observation--who decides who commands and by what criteria?  A big reason why 2014 happened--ISIS getting so close to Baghdad as the Iraqi forces broke--is that promotion was very much about who was loyal to the party in power and not about performance.  
After this, I went to have coffee with someone from inside government who was seeking my take on the world and what Canada is doing.  I actually was not as negative as I often seem to be:
  • that when NATO decided to take over the coalition training effort in Iraq, Canada jumped quickly to take the lead, a contrast to how, um, slow, Canada was to agree to lead the NATO effort in Latvia
  • that OpImpact, which I had just been briefed on, is actually a pretty coherent effort (contra to the Liberals' starting point, which I had criticized as incoherent, getting me into a twitter fight with Gerry Butts)
  • I complimented the Liberals on what an overly cynical person might consider a trap they set for Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives--announcing a new shipbuilding program--this time for the Coast Guard.  How can the Conservatives promise to cut the deficit down to zero if they are wedded to the existing shipbuilding program, this new one, and, oh, yes, a promise to buy new submarines?  Given how all of the parties have to sell out to Vancouver and Halifax on shipbuilding (and maybe Davie in Quebec), I can't see how Scheer can keep the various promises.  It was hard to do even before the new shipbuilding announcement and now much, much harder.
  • I did criticize the government for sticking to the planned duration of the Mali mission--that it was for one year, whether or not our replacements are ready.  I think it burns the political capital earned by the mission, it hurts any chance to say that Canada is back in peacekeeping, and so on.  On the other hand, the Conservatives are not going to run on doing more peacekeeping, so this is not a huge vulnerability.  Just seems dumb to me.  Yes, there are tradeoffs and costs, but if the mission is worthwhile for a year, it is worthwhile for 15 months.  This is not a case of extending forever.
  • I did criticize the government for keeping a promise that it should have implemented last and not first--disbanding the Liberal caucus in the Senate.  This has made it far harder to get things done including securing the next election (thanks to Stephanie Carvin for educating me about this).  This should have been one of those promises kept later in one's term.  Ooops.

Anyhow, I got into this business because I am deeply curious about damn near everything.  Being in a national capital means learning heaps of stuff through these kinds of meetings.  I do love my job, and I do, yes, love Ottawa.  Some call it a bubble.  I call it home.  

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